Zone of interest

Area of ​​interest/ Photo: publicity


Reflections from the film directed by Jonathan Glazer


While Hedwig Höss cultivates a weedless garden, Rudolf Höss cultivates corpses. The distinction of interests is apparent in the face of the totality, which absorbs both. Essentially, they operate in the same inseparable zone; Aren't the ashes of the exterminated people fertilizing the fertile beds? We don't need the plot of Zone of interest tell us didactically that it is the dust of calcined bodies that is used to fertilize the garden, the mere assumption that this could be the origin already makes it clear that everything that unfolds in the system nourished by extermination is under suspicion.

It is worth remembering that that image cannot be reduced to a metaphor. Yankel Wiernik (1973), survivor of the Treblinka camp, said that bodies of prisoners already in an advanced state of decomposition were exhumed by excavators, burned and the ashes had to be mixed with the earth by the hands of the other prisoners to erase the traces of the crime. and, on this portion of ground, those forcibly entrusted with gardening duties were obliged to cultivate lupins, which grew very well, as did Hedwig's flowers.

The link between terror activities and other activities is umbilical; the most structural, the most prosaic. In Zone of interest, the zeal with which Rudolf and Hedwig carry out their activities is an index of the degree of reification of the spirit obsessed with doing; The paroxysm is shown when another Nazi officer, a party comrade, fearful of Rudolf's promotion, fears that there will be no more people left to serve as labor in the forced labor camps, given Höss's care and effectiveness in exterminating them. them. If, however, there really is such a thing as a graduation of reification, the social reproduction that necessitates it depends on both its more discrete and absolute expressions.

Nothing remains untouched in a society that has rationalized death in such a way. Each partial moment of the system necessarily carries the signature of this rationalization; the possibility of qualitative difference lies in the negativity in the face of the determined expressions of this signature.

Not only the industrial reorganization, in which the profitable business of the fields and the Nazi expansion to the east magnetically attracts companies (Siemens is remembered in Zone of interest). Not just the more or less informal arrangement of distribution of booty through which curtains, kayaks, chocolate, lipstick, clothes and even the teeth of the murdered are distributed differentially (to the maids, frayed blouses; to the mistress, the fur coat).

Not only the most intimate relationships, but also the hierarchy between brothers that abruptly repeats the patterns of treatment given to subordinates when one of the youngest offspring of the Höss is locked by the eldest son in a greenhouse while he seems to mimic the sound of gases. That signature will truly mark what is called chance: a diamond supposedly hidden in a toothpaste by some “clever” Jew ends up in Hedwig's hands and she orders more toothpaste in the expectation of more diamonds.

Warning to likely readings that are satisfied with the interpretation that the film accuses the enjoyment we derive from our futile interests without the dimension of its consequences: against this type of psychological moral derivation, perhaps one of the radicalities of the film lies in the idea that a system society that has accommodated that death apparatus so well does so because the rationality of that apparatus is the same as that of society as a whole and this is configured as a complex, a zone, which starts to integrate all interests, whether they have been specifically modeled for that apparatus or to a large extent pre-exist it and do not have any immediate relationship with it, regardless of the valuation that can be made of these interests.

Distinctions such as futile and elevated interests (expression of elitism), everyday needs and unusual luxuries and even concerns that can be seen as patent selfishness in contrast to others that are a little more collective, these distinctions are carefully delimited – some fundamental to the dynamics class differentiations – matter little from the perspective of system functionality. Everything finds a suitable place in the machine: the maintenance of the home, the care of children, the ambition to progress in the profession, the vanity of dressing like an empress, the need to make one's mother proud, profit opportunities for industries, the desire to eat sweets, chocolate.

Something horrible is felt in Rudolf's simple enthusiasm when he finds a dog with a coat of an unusual color for the breed walking with its owner on the street. Could this premonition be due to the fact that the enthusiasm comes from a high-ranking official of the Nazi regime or because, in the same orbit of terror, the entirety of social life gravitates and that affection whispers something about its affinity with the ideal of the race?

The accusation that permeates all actions in the Zone of interest echoes the words of Theodor Adorno (1993) in Minima Moralia: “There is nothing harmless anymore. The small joys, the manifestations of life that seem excluded from the responsibility of thought, not only have an aspect of stubborn foolishness, of a merciless not wanting to see, but they immediately place themselves at the service of what is most contrary” (p. 19).

This is the claustrophobic weight of the dominance of a totalitarian order: the actions that directly serve the system, those that are tacitly complicit with it and even the “naive” ones are coordinated, just as the actions that go against it are condemned, condemned on the contrary. its own oppositional impulse. When that young woman takes the risk, covered by night, sowing apples in the forced labor plot to feed the hungry prisoners, she does not know that, during the day, the dispute between prisoners for one of these apples will lead to the order of a guard to murder by drowning. one of the rioters. This is the predicament the resistance finds itself in.

How expressive it is that, the two times she is shown carrying out her nocturnal activities, this occurs immediately while the Höss daughters are falling asleep, in an image reminiscent of a film negative. Does the dangerous reality, depicted in the dreamlike fable of the girl who sows apples and pears in the fields to feed the prisoners, belong to the dream of the resistance or the nightmare of the Nazis?

There is yet another type of image that also resembles the one with which these two scenes are portrayed: images from thermal cameras, such as those currently used to monitor the border area between the United States and Mexico, or those from drone sights used to bombings. A turn towards the more contemporary. Under the watchful eyes of the present, sharpened by lenses that see the heat of things, that girl's action that we watched unfold with some success (although also tragic) is, in advance, doomed to failure; the dark of night is no longer protection.


With some strangeness, we watch father Rudolf Höss lull his daughters to sleep by reading the story of Hansel and Gretel. In that atmosphere, it is as if this narrative of oral tradition, significantly prior to Auschwitz, had been composed specifically as a piece of propaganda in the ideological diet for training the executioners of the extermination camps and those who had to live with them (the camps and the executioners).

“And the old woman sat on the board, and, because she was very light, Maria pushed her as far as she could and then quickly closed the door and put the iron lock. The old woman began to scream and lament inside the hot oven, but Maria ran away and the witch ended up burning to death”; This is the outcome known from the version of the story in the book by the brothers Grimm (2018), right before Hansel and Gretel fill their pockets with the precious stones and pearls found in the house of the witch who planned to devour them. In the film, the fragment we watch Rudolf read is similar.

It is possible to draw a theoretical consequence of the link between this tale and the era of industrial murder in gas chambers that is more important than its value as an allegory.

Who knows the Dialectic of Enlightenment, by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, you will remember that, using the Odyssey, the authors present the thesis according to which Nazi-fascist barbarism is a product of the progress of reason. We go back to myths – a primary form of enlightenment, of reason – to point out in them elements on whose development the terror carried out in the era of late capitalism will depend, such as cunning, coldness, sacrifice, the domination of nature, the instrumental spirit.

If even in the saga of the Hellenic Ulysses one will find traces of the rationality that leads to fascism, it does not seem unwise to assume similar traces in the Germanic tale of Hansel and Gretel. However, more important than, for example, identifying in the Hansel and Gretel saga the evident presence of the cunning of domination, shared by Ulysses and intrinsic to the history of Western reason, is the understanding of a philosophy of history, resulting from the identification of aspects like this, for which Nazism was not an isolated accident in the ascending path of historical progress, and, rather, its economic, political, logical and technological, cultural and psychic constituents precede it, as they are inscribed in the development of culture, and they happen, as long as they are not socially confronted – and they were not.

The interests that drive the characters’ actions in Zone of interest Not only are they completely in line with everyone's life under capitalism, they have not ceased to exist, although the objects for their satisfaction have multiplied and taken on new guises.

Something more can be said about the fruitful mention of that story in Jonathan Glazer's film about Nazism, something about the ideology.

Mass extermination, carried out as a State policy and operated according to the logic of an economic activity, was supported by individual fantasies fermented by collectively disseminated stereotypes in relation to Jews and other persecuted peoples. Stating this does not mean granting equivalent importance to individual elements in relation to the most decisive political and economic determinants. Individual aspects are relevant mainly to the extent that they point to the status of the ideology itself, which operates, after all, in mediating between the interests of the social totality and individual needs, desires and impulses.

There was certainly (and is) a kind of instruction in Nazism carried out along the lines of what seems to be done with the story Hansel and Gretel read to children (the merit of the film is to show that this instruction can have the subtlety of demonstrating paternal affection); it refers to training for the dynamics of persecutions.

Each will have to guess wildly about the evil things their own witch plans to do before pushing her into the oven; Each one will have to imagine themselves being thrown into the flames before throwing the other menacing men into the fire and, finally, being able to collect whatever loot there is. In this case, ideology aims to penetrate deeply into the psyche, inscribing itself in subjective conflicts, entangling itself with every profitable representation, concentrating libidinal energy and responding to the subject's impulses. That said, it will not be difficult to see witches in the socially deformed expression of historically marked peoples – it must be no coincidence that their features, of witches, are always portrayed in a deformed way, plastic enough to make anyone correspond to them.

The diffuse omnipresent threat in an oppressive society must be socially channeled and authorization for the attack is given to the masses made up of people who may even detest the common enemy for different reasons, but are united by hatred. Those who no longer have these fantasies meticulously composed, on which the conflicts of psychodynamics themselves begin to depend intimately and whose targets are identified by the dominant powers in the list of the historically oppressed, but have some dissatisfaction (and social reality is useful in producing dissatisfaction) can find in the variety of images provided by the propaganda machine a cheap pretext – like Hedwig's mother, who assumes that a Jewish neighbor, whose servant she was, must be in the field next to her daughter's house (Auschwitz), stating, in light tone, that she was involved with “Jewish things”, Bolshevik things. In this case, the ideology has already advanced in externality, it is nothing more than an excuse.

Although not completely dispensable, that type of more specific connection between psychological dynamics and socially delimited targets is not what prevails in Zone of interest and perhaps this is a crucial difference between a time of home ovens and the era of the industrial gas chamber: indifference, coldness and cynical ideology prevail in the cultural climate.

For some there is no special interest in who is being targeted and there is no need to rely on any reason that is outside the reasons for maintaining their own existence and the activities undertaken to encourage their willingness to collaborate with the horror (which, in fact, it loses, for these people, the dimension of horror). This, as a form, is present in a film that deals with the Holocaust and does so practically without showing Jews.

Neither in Rudolf Höss nor in Hedwig Höss are there any overt traces of any special interest in the Jews (any fixation, in psychological terms), which is particularly highlighted by the contrast of the presence of Hedwig's mother, whose interest in the Jews, manifested in a fortuitous way, It's no more than a subterfuge and it doesn't even generate an issue. About the Jews, nothing is so much longer than the dry phrase “The Jews are on the other side of the wall” we hear coming out of Hedwig's mouth, in response to her mother's question about whether there are Jews working in the house. Rudolf, taken by his own task, even mentally rehearses the operation necessary to kill the other Nazis present at a party with gas.

The social foundation for a film that, when dealing with domination as content, renounces, in its form, the imagetic portrayal of the dominated without radically giving in to the denial of domination is the fact that such domination was objectively indifferent to the figure of who is dominated. This does not mean that there were no designated targets (although it is necessary to remember that, starting with the Jews, the Nazi plan progressively encompassed other groups), but that the objects of domination were treated as fungible human material, they were reduced to “cargo”, as is said in a scene when representatives from the company Topf & Söhne enthusiastically explain the operating plan of the crematoriums.

That is, the social foundation of the film is the fact that this type of domination occurs in an era in which the possibility of wars being fought without even having hatred is created,[I] that is, as a protocol of technical-administrative measures, as a work, implying a certain redefinition of the role of ideology and the place of individual affections and collective inclinations. More than ever, in this era, the tale of Hansel and Gretel really is just a story for little children not yet trained in indifference and instrumental reason, who only operate according to the logic of preserving what they love and destroying what they hate, but still they are not simply predisposed to carry out apathetic extermination.

Perhaps the option to give faces and bodies, human marks, to those who were made objects of such a mechanical action – a common resource in films on the subject and which appeals to humanitarianism – carries the risk of betraying the truth that under the terror they were treated as waste material.

Think about that final sceneSchindler's List, by Steven Spielberg (1993), when the viewer is asked to follow the wandering of a little girl amidst the thousand atrocities committed against the Jews because everything is black and white, except the girl's red coat, which singles her out in a desperate way as an attempt to raise awareness of the suffering of one, representing the general suffering, as it has reached an immeasurable point.

Zone of interest is the antithesis of this scene (and this is not a valuable comparison between the two works). Of the victims, in Zone of interest, the film viewer only knows about the screams, which tend not to be enough to single out an individual and which do not even distinguish us as humans, after all we share them with other species as a way of expressing suffering. In this way, the dehumanization carried out by Nazism is expressed, without concessions. Zone of interest It is proof that, without taking your eyes off the winners, it is possible to see and hear the story of the losers.


Zone of interest It is an exercise of the senses. An exercise of the senses regarding terror that escapes all sense, both sensory and reason. Refusing to show in images people transported as cargo, poisoned by gas, burned, working under torture, regularly shot, the film leaves no doubt that all of this happened. It is real without resorting to the artifices of informative realism.

In times of saturation of the gaze by excessive images and of the image as complete evidence of the crime, this refusal can mean something like not leaving the truth in the custody of those who have seen it naked with their own eyes, nor of those who, predisposed to disbelieve it. They require visual proof, making the dispute too easy for those who believe in seeing is believing.

When the last eyewitnesses of barbarism perish, who left us their verbal testimonies – themselves always discredited by denialism – but who could still shake the not entirely glacial indifference of some, the historical task of producing memory becomes even more disgraceful. and awareness of horror. Zone of interest responds to this task by facing these historical limits.

It does not seem to be out of commiseration, or modesty, that the eyes are “spared” from those images in Zone of interest. After all, the film demands a lot from other senses, especially hearing, it requires nothing less than a type of praxis: constant, conscious, demanding. Strictly speaking, the eyes are also not protected from anything, and, yes, they are constantly challenged, they are instigated to distrust what is seen: watching a child play in his room (the Höss' little son), the spectator is exposed to a Sound image of a prisoner begging for his life after being ordered to be killed by drowning. Wails of pain, machine noises, dog barks and recurring gunshots pierce the amenity in which the eyes could rest watching pool entertainment and scenes of everyday domestic life. A haunting roar stops the audience from sleeping in the cinema.

 Horror images are not given to the viewer ready-made and this implies, or may imply, a difficult demand for those who watch: to imagine – create images – the unimaginable or to remember historical images and stop in front of this impasse. Just as we are led to suppose the smell of incinerated bodies that invades the house when we watch the woman who hurries to close the window when she realizes the odor that pollutes the night while she sews, so too does this complex relationship between the imagination and the senses supported by each other (image-smell; hearing-image) is constantly demanded of us.

Without being prescribed, images are provoked offering nothing more than their sound contour. Perceptions are scrambled to the point where we see flowers – which, in close-up, appear to be in front of our noses – and this evokes a nauseating smell.

This relationship of tension between senses goes against the audiovisual formula of completely integrating image and sound to echo each other and duplicate the message, ensuring that there will be no uncertainty about its meaning, to the point that it is not uncommon for there to be sounds and images that , once separated, they do not sustain any autonomous existence, they significantly lose their power, revealing the weakness and absence of meaning that can only be disguised through repetition in more than one sensory register. Without exercising contradiction, complexity, the reflective capacity is atrophied, in its contact with the impressions of reality.

Striking that scheme of perception, Zone of interest it opens up to the spectator's activity and demands it, leaving gaps for images to overlap, in shock, with the images that the film, as a film, cannot fail to offer. These background gaps are also an open space to move horror images kept in the cultural repertoire, never free from the risk of oblivion. Those images that are left to the viewer may come into tension with the others (intricate, polysemic) presented on the screen, allowing them to be complexified in the specific relationship with subjects.

It is certainly not unlikely that such gaps will be filled with the clichés repeated by the cultural industry, but doesn't the fact that there is this opening already contradict the tendency of schematism preparing from start to finish to domesticate perception and understanding? Clichés can also be remembered and have their paralysis shaken when repositioned in another type of experience.

The praxis demanded of the spectator's hearing comes into conflict with the fact that listening is precisely that sense that the characters have to ignore absolutely in Zone of interest. In the main character, Hedwig, there is no evident response to the data of the reality of barbarism that penetrate through the ears, no trace of triggered reflection, not even an involuntary reaction (which demonstrates vigilance or total inability to perceive); the Höss house dog appears more disturbed.

In the film's plot there are no effective subterfuges against the sound of terror. The high walls that imprison the prisoners, efficient screens for the eyes, do not block the sound. Neither the perfume nor the color of the flowers muffles the screams of pain. There are no vines that can be planted next to the walls to silence the blasts of weapons. About that, Zone of interest seems to proclaim a warning: you can fill your garden with the most Edenic array of flowers, vegetables and fruits and rejoice in it, yet the effusive colors, the fragrant aromas and the euphoric sound of your laughter, happy with what you have built, will not drown out the noises will not even cover the odors of hell.

But, because this warning appeals to a type of sterile morality for those who cultivate indifference – and, remember, it is demanded by social conditions themselves –, the film seems to suggest even more: there are, however, those who support it, as long as it is with some comfort, sharing walls with hell and the mechanism of social reproduction ensures that this is, to some extent, the interest of each and every one, granted to a few as a caricature of a dignified and fair life.

With the same tranquility with which some believe in a particular Eden and don't mind that this paradise is contradicted by the existence of a single paradise, with the same tranquility they don't mind knowing that their exclusive Olympus is nothing more than a slice of overcrowded Tartarus. . For these, the noise that comes from Tartarus is nothing more than the temporary inconvenience of the construction site to expand their paradise in the “vital space” conquered through death.

Only those who inadvertently take the functioning of society for the laws of the unconscious can trust, in Zone of interest, in the symbolism of scenes such as those that show the ashes of bodies being blown away, bones floating and interrupting the family fun in the river, the sleepwalking of one of the Höss daughters or the Nazi's sudden vomiting attack as an expression of the returning force of the repressed. To the office killers,[ii] Without a moral conscience, all of this is just the bones of the job.

Unlike what Freud said about nothing being destroyed in the unconscious and tending to reemerge even deformed, in society annihilation is not just a possibility, but a historical reality, and the residues of this annihilation not only can, and are, erased but do not restore the that were destroyed, no matter how much they may protect the chance of some justice being done.

* Herik Rafael de Oliveira is a doctoral candidate in school psychology and human development at the USP Psychology Institute.


Zone of interest (The Zone of Interest)
USA, UK, Northern Ireland, 2023, 105 minutes.
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Screenplay: Martin Amis
Cast: Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller, Lilli Falk


Adorno, T. W. (1993). Minima moralia: reflections from damaged life (LE Bicca, trans.). 2nd ed. São Paulo: Editora Ática.

Adorno, T. W. (1995). Education and Emancipation (WL Maar, trans.). 3rd ed. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land.

Glazer, J. (Director). (2023). Zone of interest [Film]. Film4; Access; Polish Film Institute; JW Films; Extreme Emotions.

Grimm, J., & Grimm, W. (2018). Wonderful Children's and Domestic Tales [1812-1815] (C. Röhrig, trans.). São Paulo: Editora 34.

Horkheimer, M., & Adorno, T. W. (1985). Dialectics of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments (GA Almeida, trans.). Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor.

Wiernik, Y. (1973). Un año en Treblinka (FF Gólberg, trans.). Buenos Aires: Congreso Judío Latinoamericano.


[I] The expression “war without hate” is used by Adorno (1993) in the aphorism Far from the shots. minimum morality, when discussing the transition between ancient wars fought as combats and modern wars that function as mechanical works, as was the case with what happened to the Jews during fascism. For some reason Adorno links it to Edward Grey, who was Britain's foreign secretary during the First World War, but the expression seems to be particularly famous for its association with Nazi general Erwin Rommel, who commanded the campaign in North Africa. .

[ii] The expression goes back to the end of the text Education after Auschwitz, by Adorno (1995).

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